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Baby Boomers want flexible working and staggered retirement

Research has found that older workers are keen to improve their work/life balance but stay working

Baby Boomers are keen to embrace flexible working to improve their work/life balance and plan a smooth route into retirement, according to research conducted by Ashridge and seen exclusively by HR magazine.

The survey of 1,810 people identified Baby Boomers as those born before 1966, and found that the change they desired most from the workplace was a better time and work/life balance (chosen by 29% of respondents). The second-highest desired change was the ability to work flexibly (selected by 11%).

“There is a lot of talk about Millennials as they tend to be less loyal to organisations, but our research showed that older workers are starting to follow suit,” Grace Brown, qualitative research specialist for Ashridge and co-author of the report, told HR magazine.

“Many of our participants were considering starting their own business, returning to education, or working in a field that is more aligned to their personal values or passions,” she added.

Time was a consistent theme in the research; 30% of Baby Boomers wished they could reduce their working hours, and almost four in 10 (39%) wanted more agile working and a reduction in commuting time.

Patrick Thomson, senior programme manager for the Centre for Ageing Better, highlighted the benefits of flexible or reduced working for older people. “Flexible working can be very helpful for those with caring responsibilities,” he told HR magazine. “And some might look at flexible working as a way to ease themselves into retirement.”

Research from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing has found that wellbeing is better for those with control over the timing or plan for their exit from the workplace. A gradual transition rather than a stark change can be highly beneficial.

Brown said employers should think more creatively when it comes to retirement options. “Instead of a sudden end to employment organisations must recognise the value older workers can add via consultancy or project-based contracts,” she said. “Some of our participants would like to continue working flexibly in advisory or mentoring roles.”

However, communication could be a barrier. Paula Jordan, HR director for retirement housebuilder McCarthy & Stone, said sometimes employers can feel nervous about discussing retirement options with their staff. “Line managers might be frightened of being accused of age discrimination,” she told HR magazine. “In many ways it’s still a taboo to discuss retirement.

“However, if you do talk about it it can be hugely beneficial to both parties. The older person may get the flexibility they need, and the employer can still benefit from their knowledge and experience.”

Thomson suggested that employers consider what options would work best on a case-by-case basis. “In some jobs there’s simply no option to go part time, or to work from home,” he said. “In these cases employers could consider ways to help older workers meet obligations in their home lives.

“One example could be a workplace that doesn’t usually allow mobile phones. If an employee is caring for someone they may benefit from an exception being made. That peace of mind is extremely important.”

Jordan agreed. “Employers need to remember that not all older people are going to feel the same way, and so they shouldn’t treat them all the same. You should help them find the right solution for their circumstances.”

“Older people can bring so much value to the workplace,” she added. “They have survived so much in their working lives that things don’t throw them off course. They are able to keep calm and carry on, and that’s a huge advantage for businesses.”